Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Yoga moves from spirituality to medication

K. Doren Singh, Jakarta

Yoga as we know it today is the product of thousands of years. It belongs to the earliest manifestations of India's cultural heritage. It refers to that enormous body of spiritual values, attitudes, precepts, and techniques that have been developed in India over at least three millennia and that may be regarded as the very foundation of the ancient Indian civilization.

Yoga is thus the generic name for the various Indian paths of ecstatic self-transcendence, or the methodical transmutation of consciousness to the point of liberation from the spell of the ego-personality. It is the psychospiritual technology specific to the great civilization of India.

Yoga today is no longer restricted to hermits, saints and sages and it has taken its place in our everyday lives, and has aroused a worldwide awakening and acceptance in the last few decades.

It is universal in character for practice and application irrespective of culture, nationality, race, caste or creed, sex, age and physical condition. Yoga is a practical discipline. Neither by reading the texts nor talking about it, nor by wearing the garb of an ascetic, can one become an accomplished yogi.

The word "Yoga" is first mentioned in the Vedas, the earliest and most treasured sacred scriptures of India, and is etymologically derived from the verbal root Yuj (Sanskrit word) meaning "to bind together" or "to join". It is the joining of the individual self with the universal self. It is an expansion of the narrow constricted egoistic personality to an all pervasive, eternal and blissful state of reality.

One of the great seers, Maharishi Patanjali, rightly called "The father of Yoga" compiled the essential features and principles of yoga in the form of Sutras (aphorisms) and made a vital contribution in the field of yoga around 150 A.D.

According to Patanjali, yoga is a conscious process of gaining mastery over mind or yoga is the restriction of all the fluctuations in the psychic (mind). One of the major contributions of Patanjali's sutras is the eight-limbed yoga, popularly known as "Astanga Yoga", which gives a comprehensive and systematic approach for developing the mind.

The eight limbs are Yama (the moral restraints or disciplines), Niyama (the injunctions or spiritual observations), Asana (the posture of the body), Pranayama (regulation of breath or the control of the life force), Pratyahara (restraint of senses from their object of enjoyment), Dharna (focusing of mind), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (super consciousness).

There are a large number of methods of yoga catering to the needs of different persons in society to bring about the transformation of the individual. They are Raja-Yoga, Hatha-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Karma-Yoga, Mantra-Yoga, Japa-Yoga, Laya-Yoga, Kundalini-Yoga, etc.

But they are broadly classified into four main streams. Swami Vivekananda classifies them as Karma Yoga (work), Raja Yoga (Psychic control), Jnana Yoga (Philosophy) and Bhakti Yoga (worship), to develop the personality at four different levels -- physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional and simultaneously bring about spiritual progress.

1. Karma Yoga (the path of work) involves doing action with an attitude of detachment to the fruits of action. This makes man release himself from strong attachments and thereby brings to him a steadiness of mind which verily is yoga. Instruments of action and understanding get cleansed.

2. Raja Yoga (psychic control or the yoga of mind culture) gives a practical and easy approach to reaching higher states of consciousness. Culturing of the mind is the key for success in almost all endeavors in our lives. It is based on the Astanga Yoga of Patanjali's yoga systems.

3. Jnana Yoga (the path of philosophy) is apt for keen intellectuals and is centered around the analysis of "happiness". Also many other fundamental questions regarding the mind, the outside and inside world and reality are taken up. Basic questions are raised, even involving the intellect itself, to reach the very basis of the intellect.

4. The control of emotions is the key in Bhakti Yoga (the path of worship). In this modern world, man is tossed up and down by emotional onslaughts. The path of Bhakti is a boon for gaining control over emotional instability by properly harnessing the energy involved in it.

The most of the other remaining methods of yoga are permutations and combinations of these basic methods.

Any system or process will be accepted by the common man if it can prove its usefulness in the day-to-day aspects of life.

Yoga offers man a conscious process for solving the menacing problems of unhappiness, restlessness, emotional upset, hyper- activity, etc., in society and helps to evoke the hidden potentialities of man in a systematic and scientific way by which man becomes a fuller individual. For the restless mind it gives solace. For the sick, it is a boon. For the common man it is the fashion of the day to keep himself fit and beautiful. Some use it for developing memory, intelligence and creativity. With its multifold advantages, it is becoming a part of education. Specialists use it to unfold deeper layers of consciousness in their drive towards perfection.

Because of its rational basis, experts in various branches of medicine, including modern medical science, are coming to realize the role of its techniques in the prevention, mitigation and curing of disease and promotion of health. New psychosomatic ailments and psychiatric problems pose a great challenge to the modern medical system. It is here that yoga is making a vital contribution to modern medicine.

The writer is a yoga teacher at JNICC